Monday, 15 March 2010

'Green authoritarianism'

I alluded early in this blog's life to the debates within the Camp for Climate Action and some potential implications for horizontal politics. One debate I didn't discuss in that post, but which is very much at the heart of the controversy, is the issue of 'green authoritarianism' - a concept that, depending on the political outlook of the person using it, spans a continuum of meanings from any state interference regarding environmental impact to a full-scale system in which liberties are severely curtailed for environmental reasons. (The specific issues being objected to by those in the CCA who adhere to the original horizontal principles are 'green' taxation of various sorts and state-enforced population control.)

Anyway, today I heard someone - a very good friend with a talent for playing devil's advocate, not that this alters what she actually said - come very close to advocating the latter end of the continuum in a question to a visiting speaker, her rationale being that this is the only way people are going to be significantly moved to change their environmental impact. Now, granted, if you are not taking an intrinsically horizontal or anarchist standpoint and your main concern is preventing environmental damage, this may seem like a tempting solution to the issues Mathew raises at Election 2010: specifically that, while people claim to desire a reduction in environmental damage, they are less keen to personally bear the costs of doing so. However, just off the top of my head, I can think of a few counter-arguments:

  • Making something government policy doesn't change people's attitudes towards it, except maybe making them resentful. Hence, people will be busy looking for polluting loopholes rather than considering whether their behaviours are unsustainable.
  • Some aspects of environmentally damaging behaviour can be policed fairly easily, but how far can this go? You can certainly monitor how much recycling a household generates compared to landfill, or their use of a car, but it is harder to keep tabs on whether people switch their lights off, unplug phone chargers and so on without severely infringing civil liberties.
  • Moratoriums on certain products are possible, but who's to say it won't just lead to a thriving black market in those products and an increase in their desirability? Yes, even toxic cleaning crap, if people still believe that the wretched stuff is the best product for the job and either don't care about or think efficacy outweighs the damage to the waterways.
  • Giving the state that much power over people's everyday lives has a destructive potential all of its own. It mandates the government to intervene in an unprecedented range of areas, which is liable to spread.
  • Who decides what is an environmentally necessary law? Can governments be trusted not to have any hidden agendas? I'd be especially concerned about population control here...

Sunday, 14 March 2010


Working on

Thesis chapter 4 - Culture

Ideological cores under pressure

Reading (work)

Murray Bookchin - Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism

More Bourdieu than I ever wanted to! But also James C Scott Domination and the Arts of Resistance and Weapons of the Weak plus Bakhtin Rabelais and his World which are pretty interesting.

Reading (not work)

Meg Cabot - Size 14 is Not Fat Either

Val McDermid - A Fever of the Bone

Listening regularly to

Big Country

The Tea Party

Blackmore's Night

The 'Currently' page linked to at the top of the blog gets changed as regularly as I can be bothered, which is usually once a week. I've decided to post archives on here for anyone who is weird enough to really want to know...

Saturday, 13 March 2010

On the latest BNP business

I've been a lazy-arse blogger lately, so I'm sure I'm not breaking the news to anyone that BNP members are not to be banned from teaching in schools. I have to admit to being a bit conflicted about this. I hate the BNP, but in general also hate the idea that someone could lose their job because of their beliefs, especially if they are generally quiet about those beliefs. To give an example, I honestly don't believe that Simone Clarke should be chucked out of any given ballet production due to her BNP membership. Boycott her performances, sure, maybe picket outside because any opportunity to get the anti-fascist message out is good, and if the ballet company want shot of her because she's bringing them adverse publicity I will have no sympathy for her, but it isn't like she's getting much of a chance to preach racist crap from the stage.

A school, however, is a very different scenario. Teachers can exert a whole lot of influence on young people. And BNP members are not known for keeping their gobs shut about their beliefs. Even if they do, there's the deeper issue of merely holding a racist attitude in a classroom - if a teacher objects, even without speaking these objections out loud, to the presence of black, Asian, or any immigrant children in a class or to friendships (or more than that, if we're talking high school) between children of different races, it is far from impossible that the children will pick up on the bad vibes anyway.

I hope John Dunford is right when he claims that 'Teacher racism is rare', but to be honest any racist incident in a school classroom is unacceptable, even between the children themselves, and especially if instigated by the teacher. And, as above, there's the question of attitude and unspoken racism and the effect that could have.

Oh, and there's also the small matter of giving the BNP respectibility, which while a bit of a side issue in this case is certainly never a good thing...

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

I was going to say 'light relief', but, well...

If you're ever at a loose end and feel that a few more euphemisms for rude acts would fill the empty hours when you aren't actually committing rude acts (or eating, sleeping, working or otherwise doing anything constructive), then The Always Amusing Euphemism Generator is probably the site for you! Of course I am only using it because I am too tired to think up my own dirty phrases - normally I could do a whole lot better...

Teaching update

Today's seminar topic was in my opinion the most interesting I've had so far on this module, so if I'm ever going to blog about it this is the moment to do so! Attendance today was really crap due to essay deadlines and various illnesses doing the rounds, but the brave souls who made it in managed to pull off some good discussions. To put it in context, we've had a series of lectures on the main EU institutions (council, commission, parliament) and one on the democratic deficit, and it was the last topic the module convenor had asked us to focus on in seminars. The essay questions attached to this class were on the democratic deficit and the role of the European Parliament in representing European citizens. The content varied a bit between the two groups, but a general outline was as follows:

Both: open with a brief discussion of what democracy is, the different types of democracy and where they are relevant in the context of the EU (representative democracy in Parliament, direct democracy with referenda), and the different conceptions of representation that have been put forwards. (Here it helps that I know their political theory module inside out!)
Both: get onto the democratic deficit, what it is (the reading offers several definitions and relevant factors), and the relevance to the countries the students adopted in their first seminar.
Group B: segue into talking about the European Parliament essay, with some general essay-writing talk
Group A: discussion of whether the EU was democratic
Group B: position game, meaning people stand in a line taking positions on a controversial question - in this instance whether the EU is democratic. (for various reasons I didn't use this with group A)
Both: Quick bit of groupwork dealing with what a Euro-democracy (phrase nicked from the core reading) might look like, whether it is possible, whether we should bother
Both: end with a discussion of how the democratic deficit essay question might be tackled. I've been trying to have a bit of essay drill wherever possible - it gives me a chance to instill the basic knowledge without taking time away from the topics, and them a chance to ask general questions at every point in the term.
Both: five minutes or so at the end for general questions the students may have about the module and any announcements I have - in this case that the homework for their next class is to find a relevant news clipping, and the fact that I'm going to be sending some of them a survey on the seminar experience. (I will be picking a certain number of names at random, but also happy to have volunteers if anyone feels strongly enough!)

The discussion was pretty calm and relaxed, I think I've cracked the optimum seating arrangements in each room (in one room we push two or three rows of desks together to make a big table, in another we push the tables aside and get the chairs in a circle), and there was less resistance than I thought to not having individual handouts this time. (the department is trying to discourage tutors from using these, so I've been trying to reevaluate when they are necessary)

In other news, I FINALLY have heating and hot tap water in my flat, so tonight I'm going to have my first bath of the semester! It feels like some insane luxury to be able to heat the whole place at once and not have to plan in advance which room I want to work or eat in...